“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” -Mahatma Gandhi
In my previous post about Labels and Boxes, I went over how even minor or perceived differences among us can deeply change our perceptions of one another. What I spent far less time covering is when we agree, embrace our homogeneity, and how it can be an equally slippery slope.
What I don’t intend to do is say that finding and gravitating towards like-minded people is wrong. We all enjoy the company of somebody who shares our values and passions, those we feel comfortable with to truly be ourselves. After all, it’s not very fun to spend all of your time around people who might minimize you. That tends to set the stage for confrontation or discontent.
Not often, if at all, will you come across somebody who is the complete embodiment of your mirror image or polar opposite. We tend to be much more diverse than we even give ourselves credit for. When dealing with others, there may be agreement or disagreement on a lot of things, but the amount we actually have in lock-step varies. Just because you agree on your conclusions doesn’t mean there aren’t semantics or facets that don’t overlap, and likewise just because you disagree doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of common ground to find.
Many years ago I stumbled across an independent filmmaker named Evan Coyne Maloney. After years of making short videos, he came out with a full length documentary film called Indoctrinate U. The specific politics aside, it was a film about political bias on college campuses, how some students have been intellectually bullied, punished, and alienated because of their ideologies by students and staff of their universities. It brought up a very good point in that we all too often talk about diversity; diversity of race, culture, backgrounds, religion, etc. As very important as those are to acknowledge and embrace, somewhere in there we lost sight in pursuing the diversity of thought.
Homogenizing thought only has risks when it seeks to extinguish or stigmatize all others. Perhaps it is too philosophical or idealist but I hold that opposing views are good for one another. They create a challenge, need, and drive to seek the truth through obstacles, objections, and rational discussion. We are less prone to be unfair with our assessments when in the company of those whom we know will hold us accountable, and rightfully so. Surrounding yourself with people who won’t contest you is the surest way to have a false sense of knowledge and security, and helps to breed intolerance.
This isn’t to say all disagreements are beneficial. Certainly when two uncompromising views clash, not much can be accomplished. Two passionate opposites can further entrench themselves and attempt to cause damage to one another. Tolerance is learned by understanding, and you can’t understand anything with refusal and stern attachment to preconceptions.
In this, a paradox exists between the enthusiasm for our beliefs and our desire to discover more. To venture farther away from your foundation can feel risky due to its constant challenges. We fear this uncertainty may temper the enthusiasm for our morals, change them, or perhaps even worse, create indifference.
Deeply philosophical thinkers can often be criticized for their gray, relativist outlook on the world. To some there are definite rights and wrongs, and I would agree, seeing as how I believe many things to be right and wrong. I will say, however, that those who spend less time seeing black and white, who spend more time seeing gray can still have firm convictions. They just understand that you do, too, and for different reasons relative to your personal experiences.
Even I get criticized when having discussions because I like to find where the disagreements are. I don’t feel that I learn much by only agreeing, though I try never to make it into a confrontation. The best way I’ve learned to appreciate other people is by listening and understanding where they come from; that I may contest the idea, but I must judge the person based on their intentions. When you respect the moral fortitude of somebody else, they are much more prone to respect yours and voicing them becomes much more enriching to everyone.
The ideal is to be tolerant of one another despite our differences, even when it sometimes feels like you have to tolerate the intolerable. You’d be surprised what a little listening can accomplish.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle